S A L LY E N G L E M E R RY

Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism: Mapping the Middle
ABSTRACT How do transnational ideas such as human rights approaches to violence against women become meaningful in local social settings? How do they move across the gap between a cosmopolitan awareness of human rights and local sociocultural understandings of gender and family? Intermediaries such as community leaders, nongovernmental organization participants, and social movement activists play a critical role in translating ideas from the global arena down and from local arenas up. These are people who understand both the worlds of transnational human rights and local cultural practices and who can look both ways. They are powerful in that they serve as knowledge brokers between culturally distinct social worlds, but they are also vulnerable to manipulation and subversion by states and communities. In this article, I theorize the process of translation and argue that anthropological analysis of translators helps to explain how human rights ideas and interventions circulate around the world and transform social life. [Keywords: human rights, translation, globalization, legal anthropology, transnationalism]

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OW ARE TRANSNATIONAL IDEAS such as human rights approaches to violence against women adopted in local social settings? How do they move across the gap between a cosmopolitan awareness of human rights and local sociocultural understandings of gender, family, and justice? Ethnographic research shows that human rights ideas and practices developed in one locality are being adopted or imposed transnationally in a variety of ways. Legal documents and policy statements produced in transnational sites such as UN conferences circulate globally through the work of movement activists and states. Although the historical foundations of human rights and much of their content are Western, they are currently important for social justice movements in many parts of the world. Groups such as indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, and women (e.g., Cowan et al. 2001), as well as military officials and government employees in Columbia and the United States (Tate 2004), use human rights language and techniques. Mark Goodale (2002) describes a local activist in rural Bolivia who delivers a long lecture on women’s human rights to each couple he marries. Celestine NyamuMusembi (2002) shows how women’s human rights claims to land ownership affect local administrative forums in Kenya. Hussaina J. Abdullah (2002:152–153) describes the growth of human rights and civil liberties activism in Nigeria while noting that the religious revivalism and authoritarian state feminism emerging at the same time have re-

inforced patriarchal structures, undermining the challenges posed by the explosion in human rights activism. There is also active resistance to these human rights claims by elites who fear loss of power, states unwilling to have their activities exposed, and men who want to retain their authority over women. Some local justice officials find that human rights ideas undermine their capacity to deliver justice in ways that they find reasonable. For example, Shannon Speed and Jane Collier (2000) describe the conflicts between understandings of justice shared by judges in an indigenous community in Mexico and those of human rights advocates who criticize local justice. Marilyn Strathern (2004:201–206) discusses a similar conflict in Papua New Guinea: A woman acquiesced to being given in marriage to another tribal group in compensation for a death, but human rights activists objected that this was a violation of fundamental human rights and persuaded a judge to overturn the settlement. The judge sought to promote a vision of modernity based on choice. Women’s groups in northern Nigeria that talk about implementing women’s rights increasingly refer to women’s rights under Shari’a rather than under international human rights law, which does not challenge gender inequality (Abdullah 2002:169– 171). Local leaders in many parts of the world resist the human rights claims of subordinated groups by asserting that this is an alien, Western import not suited to local normative systems, a position framed most strongly in the

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, Vol. 108, Issue 1, pp. 38–51, ISSN 0002-7294, electronic ISSN 1548-1433. C 2006 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website, at http://www.ucpress.edu/journals/rights.htm.

and practices. as a way for women to imagine their power to contest all forms of oppression. the rule of law. foregrounding individuals at the expense of communities? To what extent does it provide an emancipatory tool for vulnerable people such as women. wealth. This discourse produces new subjectivities that are embraced by members and negotiated along with prior ones (Berry 2003: 94–96). education. national. or indigenous peoples? To what extent does it contribute to diminishing the oppressive control that community leaders or the state exercise over the marginalized and poor? Are there ways it promotes social equality. and cosmopolitanism. The concept of “vernacularization” was developed to explain the 19th-century process by which national languages in Europe separated. The term indigenization refers to shifts in meaning—particularly to the way new ideas are framed and presented in terms of existing cultural norms. Understanding how human rights circulate and are transplanted raises larger questions about how cultural life is changing in response to globalization and its deepening inequalities in wealth and power. In the context of discussions of transnationalism.Merry • Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism claim that “Asian values” are distinct from human rights (see Bauer and Bell 1999). armed conflict. values. In this article. It does not debate the universality of human rights or the theoretical opposition between culture and rights. Thus. 2001. The causes of this violence are social. It is part of a move within anthropology to skirt the universalism–relativism debate. from elsewhere in the country. Indigenization is the symbolic dimension of vernacularization. Is human rights law simply a strategic weapon used by powerful groups to legitimate their power grabs—a window dressing for real politik? Is it a form of neoimperialism by which the West claims to save the benighted. Clearly. regional. travel. Indeed. savage peoples of the rest of the world while actually pursuing its own interests? Is it increasing global cultural homogeneity by introducing a discourse of social justice based on rights rather than reconciliation or responsibility.1 Multiple translators connect transnationally circulating discourses and particular social contexts. I use empirical examples of the appropriation of women’s human rights to analyze the process by which human rights are remade in the vernacular. For example. contributing to the development of an ethnography of the practice of human rights. which preoccupied anthropologists in the 1990s. However. and global systems of meaning. Intermediaries or translators work at various levels to negotiate between local. Translators refashion global rights agendas for local contexts and reframe local grievances in terms of global human rights principles and activities. moving away from the medieval transnational use of Latin and creating a new and more differentiated sense of nationhood in Europe (Anderson 1983). focusing on where and how human rights concepts and institutions are produced. often involving poverty. education. Women’s human rights are a distinctive facet of human rights in that they are still new and regarded as marginal by many human rights institutions. It is not clear how the spread of human rights institutions and discourses is reshaping these inequalities. It is commonly used in development programs as well as human rights implementation. of course. but in this article. Wilson 1997). and transnational consciousness blend with geography in defining these terms. and how they shape everyday lives and actions. In this article. 39 As ideas from transnational sources travel to small communities. or adapted to local institutions and meanings. education. Human rights language is similarly extracted from the universal and adapted to national and local communities. a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that focuses on women’s development employs slides of preAryan goddesses to develop a concept of “feminine spiritual power. and protection against the ravages of the market? Does it help women contest the structures of patriarchy that govern their lives? Clearly. I explore the practice of human rights. as well as recalcitrant particularity. the source of global ideas and institutions is usually another locality that has developed an idea or practice that is translated into a form that circulates globally and is then transplanted into another locality. The NGO staff members interweave practices and discourses from the locality. I seek to develop an analytical framework for studying the localization of human rights that facilitates addressing these questions. economic. the cluster of ideas evoked by local and global goes far beyond spatial referents. The central focus of women’s rights activism has been on violence against women. but the human rights system conceptualizes violence against women largely as individual injuries. and cosmopolitan awareness of elites from other parts of the world. and state policies. racial minorities. This work is done by actors who move between the discourses of the localities they work with. Instead of asking if human rights are a good idea. how they circulate.” or shakti. The term local is. social class. in India. deeply problematic here. Their wider array of meanings . taking ideas from one place and redefining them or adapting them to another. and to share in the affluence. and political. Kim Berry (2003:86–87) describes how. local tends to stand for a lack of mobility. and to focus instead on the social processes of human rights implementation and resistance. A key dimension of the process of vernacularization is the people in the middle: those who translate the discourses and practices from the arena of international law and legal institutions to specific situations of suffering and violation. feminists have long been skeptical about rights approaches to gender violence because of the narrow conception of the problem embedded in this discourse. there are no simple answers to these pressing questions. it explores what difference they make (see Cowan et al. as is its oppositional twin global. and from outside India to produce a hybrid feminist discourse of shakti. they are typically vernacularized. to adopt universal moral frameworks. displacement. Rajagopal 2003. whereas global encompasses the ability to move across borders.

The leader of an Islamic women’s organization in northern Nigeria told me that one reason women suffer fistula problems from protracted childbirth is that when their husbands are away they cannot get permission to leave the house to seek medical care. the entities responsible for enforcing human rights and often the major violators. enhancing the criminal justice response. and raising public awareness of the problem. able to manipulate others who have less knowledge than they do but still subject to exploitation by those who installed them. envision a different set of rights from those articulated in international human rights conventions. Many women’s groups around the world worked to establish the idea that violence against women is a human rights violation. shelters. They may have greater interest in the source than the target of the transaction or vice versa. After a decade of mobilization and pressure. translators channel the flow of information but they are often distrusted. Universalists claimed that human rights are powerful because of their universality and should be adopted in all cultural contexts despite differences from local normative systems. involved in the process? The intense debates between universalists and relativists of the 1990s highlighted the question of how human rights ideas move across cultural contexts. 2001). but battered women’s groups still put priority on providing shelter and social services to battered women. Despite considerable critique of the use of the terms global and local and numerous studies that show that things we call “global” are often circulating locals. see also Riles 1998). Although it had begun earlier.” which defined violence against women and women’s human rights as two of 12 key areas for action from governments. or other social commitments. references to women’s rights under Shari’a are more likely to be accepted than human rights arguments. WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS Violence against women has been a key issue for women’s movements in many parts of the world. the international community. Their translation skills can undermine the communities they represent. translators work within established discursive fields that constrain the repertoire of ideas and practices available to them. or folded into preexisting institutions to create a more hybrid discourse and organization. but they are vulnerable to charges of disloyalty or double-dealing. particularly in areas other than indigenous rights (but see Cowan et al. women’s human rights become women’s rights under Shari’a. passing national laws against domestic violence. As knowledge brokers. Translators are not always successful.40 American Anthropologist • Vol. these terms have a recalcitrant tendency to shape discussions of transnational phenomenon. for example. the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The nature of cultural translation is an old anthropological problem. In this context. Some of those who talk about women’s human rights under Shari’a in northern Nigeria. during the 1990s and 2000s. 108. Moreover. included this issue with a new general recommendation in 1992. their ethnic. but only recently . The battered women’s movement that began in Europe and North America in the 1970s sought to improve the position of women through a variety of social interventions such as counseling. Butalia 2002). and the strengthening of laws and enforcement practices at the local and national level (Schechter 1982). There has been little anthropological attention to the process by which universal human rights ideas are adopted and applied locally. AnNa’im and Hammond 2002. but they do not talk about women’s human rights under international law. New ideas and practices may be ignored. Activists point out that human rights will spread more effectively and with greater legitimacy if they are adapted to local cultural contexts and systems of law (see An-Na’im 1992. They work in a field of conflict and contradiction. whereas relativists argued that human rights ideas should not be imposed on societies with different value systems. How did these ideas travel? What are the paths by which human rights ideas become relevant to local settings? How are states. out of the reach of the global legal system but nevertheless called by the same name. gender.” produced an influential policy document. No. They usually have greater knowledge and commitment to one side than the other. but the globalization of human rights discourse raises it in a new guise. core human rights principles concerning women spread more extensively from their global sites of production in New York and Geneva to local settings around the world. The major women’s human rights convention. Similar movements focusing on violence against women developed in other parts of the world at the same time (see Basu 1995. often called the “Beijing Conference. rejected. 1 • March 2006 has it been defined as a human rights violation. They teach young women that they have rights under Shari’a to leave the house under these circumstances. In the context of the recent politicized expansion of Shari’a criminal law in many northern Nigerian states. Translation takes place within fields of unequal power. is relevant to understanding the process of localizing human rights. in 1993 women’s groups succeeded in persuading the world conference on human rights in Vienna to declare that women’s rights are human rights (Friedman 1995). and institutional frameworks that create opportunities for wealth and power. “The Platform for Action. Or they may be subverted: seized and transformed into something quite different from the transnational concept. They are powerful in that they have mastered both of the discourses of the interchange. The Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. and civil society (United Nations 1996:33–34. Translators are both powerful and vulnerable. as in the famous cases of La Malinche and Sacajawea. Translators’ work is influenced by who is funding them. because their ultimate loyalties are ambiguous and they may be double agents. Coomaraswamy 1994).

Choosing resonance requires sacrificing ideals. discursive fields that determine which frameworks are available. and possibly excluding significant groups and their demands from the movement (Ferree 2003:340). it is possible for actors and targets to interpret these signs differently . Frame analysis neglects the constraints that discourse imposes on actors. Actors have unequal power to reshape these fields (Steinberg 1999:742. argue that—all else being equal—the higher the degree of frame resonance. resonance is a costly choice because it may limit the possibility of long-term change. Steinberg advocates a more dialogic analysis that sees the production of meaning as contested. Mark Steinberg argues that the metaphors of frame and package suggest that these discourses operate as bounded and linked issue statements. however. often hegemonic. to garner bystander support. Indigenization occurs when an innovation is framed in terms of local symbols and terminology. and that some movement leaders may chose the nonresonant approach to induce greater social change in the long run (2003:305).” Paul Bohannan countered. This enabled Gluckman to show that the Lozi judicial process was similar to that of Western society. 2002:12–13). shaped both by group conflict and by the internal dynamics of the discourse itself (1999:737). the greater the likelihood it will be successful (1986:477). Understanding when and how cultural translation is possible has long been an issue in anthropology. From a social semiotic perspective. He identified broadly similar features of legal reasoning between Barotse and European law such as the idea of the “reasonable man.” These frames can have powerful effects on the way situations are understood and on the tactics their supporters deploy (Khagram et al. shifting it from discipline to abuse. Max Gluckman argued that it was possible to interpret the legal behavior of the Barotse people through the categories of Western law to make comparisons between Lozi and Western law (1955. Myra Marx Ferree counters that resonant discourses are less radical than nonresonant ones. However. The famous Gluckman–Bohannan debate in legal anthropology was ostensibly about how to do comparative research but was fundamentally about the difficulties of translation. Bohannan accused Gluckman of doing “backward translation” by reading Lozi law through Western legal terms (Bohannan 1997:411). One approach to understanding the adoption of rights discourse is through the concept of “framing. and define appropriate strategies of action (Snow et al. In social movements. However. the success of the battered women’s movement in the United States depended on fundamentally changing the way women understood violence from their partners. It can produce significant change in individual consciousness about an issue or prob- 41 lem or more broadly in a wider domain in a manner similar to religious conversion (Snow 2004:394). Translators must assess to what extent they can challenge existing modes of thinking and to what extent they must conceal radical ideas in familiar packages. Frame theory has been criticized for its overly fixed understanding of frames. these ideas will not induce change. who must work within established. This is precisely the problem human rights activists confront: If they present human rights as compatible with existing ways of thinking. However. 1997). 1986. the products of this framing activity are called “collective action frames. 747–748). the underlying question regarding how translating one set of cultural categories and meanings into another transforms them has not been resolved. It is only their capacity to challenge existing power relations that offers radical possibilities (see Chanock 2000). so that words may be interpreted differently by activists and their targets. and their susceptibility to change (1999:740). Indeed.Merry • Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism ANTHROPOLOGICAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON TRANSLATION The theoretical question—how do human rights ideas become adopted in a wide variety of culturally distinct communities?—is one instance of a broader question about how ideas and institutions move from one sociocultural setting to another. Given the multivocality of messages.” which was developed by social movement theorists to analyze what makes an idea persuasive in a social movement. Frames are not themselves ideas but ways of packaging and presenting ideas that generate shared beliefs. on the basis of his research on the Tiv. Nevertheless. that legal categories are folk categories that should be understood in their own terms (1997). human rights ideas must be framed in indigenous cultural categories. to be adopted. and translations and mistranslations happen all the time. their ambiguity. Social movement theorists point out that the frame needs to be resonant with cultural traditions and narratives to be appealing (Snow 2004:401). Snow et al. David Snow uses the term framing to refer to the signifying work of social movement activists: “They frame. ignoring the continuous contestation over meanings. arguing that translating them into English terms to make comparisons distorted their meaning (Bohannan 1957). As anthropologists recognized the difference between folk terms and analytic terms and that comparison relies on analytic categories. yet Bohannan claimed that these similarities appeared because Gluckman had used Western law to understand Lozi law in the first place (1997:411). He peppered his ethnography of Tiv law with Tiv words. The frame is an interpretive package surrounding a core idea (Ferree 2003:308). meanings are produced by the interaction between systems of signs and social action. He suggests talking about collective action discourses as repertoires rather than frames (Steinberg 1999:750). ideas and institutions now circulate globally at a dizzying speed. and to demobilize antagonists” (Snow and Benford 1988:198). or assign meaning to and interpret relevant events and conditions in ways that are intended to mobilize potential adherents and constituents. motivate collective action. limiting demands on authorities. It raises the question of how concepts can be translated between social and cultural contexts. Tarrow 1998). the debate subsided (see Nader 1997). For example.

illnesses. national. 1 • March 2006 Translating from a “weaker” language into a “stronger” one. Nevertheless. human rights lawyers. As they scramble for funds. like other intermediaries. Abu-Lughod 1993. women’s empowerment. and international factors. Thus. or good roads. and uncontrollable. 108. They are constrained by the human rights discourse and by the cultural meanings of the situation where they are working. he notes that there is a tension between the headman’s position in the village. The possibilities of manipulation run both ways. State policies may silence these efforts or subvert them into reinforcing forms of male authority even as they seem to be promoting women’s human rights. Clifford and Marcus 1986). . but he must nevertheless enforce the rules because if he does not. These people translate up and down. There are limits to the capacity of the producers of these discourses to control their meanings. but the target actors. In British colonial Africa. follow agricultural and veterinary regulations. especially when it means reinterpreting one set of experiences and categories in terms of another more powerful one. The headman. Gluckman’s analysis of the headman provides insight into the dilemma of intermediaries. They translate transnational ideas and practices down as ways of grappling with particular local problems. They reframe local grievances up by portraying them as human rights violations. and ultimately deposition by the state. On the other hand.2 Anthropologists have long been fascinated with people who occupy middle positions. imprisonment. they have to speak the language of international human rights preferred by international donors to get funds and global media attention. Cultural translation is also central to the work of applied anthropologists. In other words. After delineating the importance of the village headman in many societies of Central Africa. As anthropologists pay increasing attention to the inequalities in power involved in this process. means translating from a less powerful language to a more powerful one. As Talal Asad (1986:163–164) notes. they have to present their initiatives in cultural terms that will be acceptable to at least some of the local community. such as from a “Third World” into a “First World” language. hoe paths. academics. Because of these differences among languages. they need to select issues that international donors are interested in— such as female genital cutting. Those occupying the middle are no longer the village headmen of colonial indirect rule but activists providing services and advocacy to local communities. At the same time. This usually means framing the stories differently than the victims do. is constrained by those who endowed him with authority and his followers’ suspicion but has new opportunities to control others and to enrich himself. This process of cultural translation is familiar to anthropologists. but he or she is also capable of exploiting those under his or her control. languages themselves are unequal in power. e. No. determined by professional. so human rights translators take local grievances and translate them up into the more powerful language of transnational human rights. or a host of other people who have one foot in the transnational community and one at home. The latter includes his role as a key (although unpaid) official in the British colonial administration. The headman and his followers in the village share a common set of values but do not accept those of the British. and strangers and for making sure that his villagers keep the village clean. or the trafficking of women and children—and connect these agendas to problems that interest local populations—such as clean drinking water. combining both transnational human rights concepts and local ways of thinking about grievances. interpretations. Human rights translators work in situations of this kind. They may be local activists. and pay taxes. On the one hand.. more jobs. they reinterpret local ideas and grievances in the language of national and international human rights.42 American Anthropologist • Vol. they remake transnational ideas in local terms. he is liable to be punished by fining. as a result of global inequalities of wealth and power. translating between worlds above and worlds below. such as states.g. which uneasily pairs his leadership in a web of kinship ordered by diffuse moral sanctions with his political power supported by legal and political authority. Gluckman notes that the headman is no more eager than the villagers to accept these as good practices. “As he applies these unwelcome and unaccepted rules. An intermediary in a colonial situation is readily exploited by those who put him or her into this position of power. Yet they are vulnerable because the power delegated by higher authorities demands concessions resisted by villagers while the villagers make demands unacceptable to the colonial authorities. within the constraints of existing discursive fields whose complex and multivocal messages are open to various. Just as anthropologists translate local experiences into written texts or films in dominant global languages. may be more responsive to demands framed this way. use latrines. who often mediate between groups such as indigenous peoples and the state or corporations. feminist NGO leaders. the headman is held responsible by the British for reporting suspicious deaths. Translators negotiate the middle in a field of power and opportunity. more generally: They hold power by virtue of their ability to look both ways and work with conflicting value systems. Human rights intermediaries put global human rights ideas into familiar symbolic terms and use stories of local indignities and violations to give life and power to global movements. They work within national and transnational movements and discourses of justice and seek to place the experiences of poor people in urban and rural areas in these frameworks. his position becomes subject to still greater strains” (1949:94). village than intended. Max Gluckman’s analysis of the position of the village headman in British Central Africa under British colonial governance is a classic example (1949:93–94). they are more reflexive about their own practice (see. who typically translate the cultural worlds of the people they study into the cultural worlds of their readers and students. the process of “cultural translation” can be an act of power. They hold a double consciousness.

its underlying fragility and unreliability is converted into an appearance of stability and solidity. In his fascinating ethnographic study of an organizational improvement project in Ruritania. These chains stretch from the situation in the urban water utilities of Ruritania to the headquarters of the development bank to the political process in Normland where politicians must justify the expenditure of tax money on development projects (Rottenburg 2002:228–229). There are clear parallels with the translation of human rights ideas from a transnational metacode of human rights law to local situations. the African managers are the strongest advocates of a universal approach to water utility management and standards of objectivity. and value coexist and must be translated in situations of substantial inequality. The intermediaries exercise power in their mastery of the technicalities of report writing. When she described to a women’s support group that her partner had forced her to have sexual relations. then said with some surprise in her voice that it had felt like rape. Human rights translators. for which the language of technical development was completely inadequate. is caught in the middle. and priorities that various actors and organizations bring to the project. In development as in human rights implementation.” The African water officials claim he failed to provide adequate data and view him suspiciously as the source of development problems while the donor sees him as failing to meet project goals in time (Rottenburg 2002:70–83). The donor wants the project to go forward. competing ideas of action. however. but at the same time ask him to produce the numbers necessary for the project to proceed. progress. yet they are vulnerable as they sift and sort flawed data to fit into predetermined goals. In his analysis of this development project. Both leave the consultant apparently responsible for the failure of the project.Merry • Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism headmen often used their power to retain or assert male control over land and resources.” creates the stark oppositions that then require mediators to negotiate (1997:265). the regional and urban administration. incorporating assumptions of male authority brought by the British. The key problem was the small percentage of consumers who actually paid for their water— only about 30 percent. After 20 years of investing in the country’s water supply system. funded by Normland. The recipients. Richard Rottenburg (2002) describes the tensions created by differences in perspectives. The universalist facade obscures the fact that things are still being done in local ways. The position of the development consultant is in many ways parallel to that of the human rights activist. and separated into individual units that have been delineated in the project documents. As data is subdivided and reclassified. Rottenburg’s study highlights the creative work of intermediaries navigating between different and incompatible perspectives on a shared task as well as their vulnerability to those who refuse to cooperate or maintain unrealistic expectations of the other side. which then become the basis for further interpretations. As Stacy Pigg observes. facts are gathered. so that must be what it was. She saw the act differently when it was called . The speaker paused. Following the form and language of human rights while ignoring local violations is a common practice for government leaders. who have resisted supplying the information on customers and the details of the water supply system. objectivity. At each point. Human rights discourse similarly juxtaposes a transnational expertise to the problems posed by “culture. the demands of a structure that required collaboration between the African water engineers and the development consultants meant that this issue remained the subject of a purely technical conversation. analogous to conversion. the leader of the group pointed out that this was a case of rape. although the problems were largely based on political and organizational arrangements rather than the technologies of water production (Rottenburg 2002:232).” which include “harmful traditional practices. The consultant is in the position of negotiating between the donor and the recipient. Nevertheless. Ironically. so he ignores the concerns of the consultant that the customer data is not forthcoming. and finally the management of the Ruritanian urban water utilities all held differing expectations. the national development ministry. I watched a translator help a battered woman in Hawai‘i understand her experiences in new ways.3 The development bank. Rottenburg describes chains of translation (Uebersetzungsketten) along which interpretations of situations and facts are developed at various stages of reporting results. with its emphasis on transnational expertise juxtaposed to local “traditional culture. the development process itself. the water ministry. The intermediary becomes the “fall guy. like development consultants. A “metacode” based on ideas of development. subject always to further subdivision and reclassification within a particular context. The consultant. are often caught in the middle. the Normland consultant. Local leaders are often eager to appear compliant with human rights expectations while continuing to act in noncompliant ways. as broker and translator. see the consultant 43 as Other and are suspicious of him. Normland’s development bank wanted to solve the water system’s lack of economic viability rather than building new capacity. classifications.” SHIFTING SUBJECTIVITIES? To what extent the adoption of human rights concepts leads to a shift in subjectivity is a complicated question. and technical expertise dominated discussions. classified. This allows them to present themselves as worthy partners in development yet insulates them from the European managers by assuring them they are carrying out the work according to universal principles so that further intervention and inspection are unnecessary. However. generating an accurate list of customers proved a political as well as administrative nightmare. Translators can produce a dramatic shift in subjectivity. For example. This leads in some cases to a transformation of the data into forms that promote the ultimate goal of the project and avoid the appearance of mistakes.

This movement began outside the state. At first. but local cultural understandings shape the way the work is carried .” It became a violation of her body and her rights rather than a performance of wifely duty. Replication In translation by replication. the center described its program as promoting women’s welfare rights rather than human rights to deflect opposition to a “Western”-sounding human rights approach (interview with author. My research on battered women suggested that they generally took a pragmatic approach. No. it must continually exert pressure on states to maintain these resources. offering shelter. the indigenous women’s enthusiasm for rights activism dropped off after they discovered that the new inheritance law did not benefit them personally (Merry and Stern 2005). This is in effect a human rights intervention because the training is justified as the protection of women’s human rights. it is probably more common for people to adopt human rights frameworks pragmatically and strategically than through conversion. Some of its original content is stripped away in the process. This program was developed by a women’s center in Hong Kong. legal assistance. batterer’s treatment program to Chinese concepts of masculinity. and housing assistance. Of course. the global prototype has been developed in another local situation before being launched into global circulation. hotlines. When I interviewed the executive director in 2002. Whether the rights layer of understanding endures or not depends in part on the institutional response claimants receive.44 American Anthropologist • Vol. the transnational model sets the overall organization. U. imported ideas and institutions may be rejected outright. although some remains. a process in which the imported institution remains largely unchanged from its transnational prototype. Hong Kong opened its first center for battered women. Hong Kong feminist activists persuaded a group of indigenous women to see their exclusion from houses and land as gender discrimination and a human rights violation rather than only as poor treatment by their male kin (Merry and Stern 2005). Battered women and others who experience injuries that can be defined as rights violations tend to adopt this new framework by layering it over others such as fair treatment by kinsmen (see Merry 2006). several staff members of women’s centers in Hong Kong told me that it was important to indigenize these institutions. one of these centers initiated a treatment program for men who batter their wives. and ideology of an intervention while the local context provides its distinctive content. Some of the best known are Emerge in Boston and the Duluth. so the indigenous women in Hong Kong came to see themselves as abused by their male kin who failed to endow them with the right to inherit land equally with male relatives or to take care of them. In a social movement against male-only inheritance of family land in the New Territories of Hong Kong in 1993. programs for batterers focus on teaching anger “rape.” expressing the theory that battering is fundamentally about power and control (Pence and Paymar 1993). The technology of batterer-treatment programs comes from Euro-American traditions of therapeutic intervention in family situations and from law: Men are taught how to recognize their anger and identify their feelings and are told that their partners have rights to equality and freedom from violence (Merry 1995. counseling. support groups. These differences are a matter of degree. Just as the battered woman in Hawai‘i came to see herself as violated by her partner as well as a victim of a crime. They are told that their violence is a crime. 1 • March 2006 out. trying out a rights framework but dropping it if the courts. Yeung 1991:35). All the centers were operated with considerable private funding and limited state support (Tang et al. The new interpretation rarely displaces older ones. The adaptation is superficial and primarily decorative. although it increasingly relies on state resources to run shelters and women’s support programs. and in some cases temporary housing. as well as by Hong Kong residents who had experience working in the battered women’s movement in North America. By 1985.S. she told me that she had spent ten years in Canada working on family violence before coming to Harmony House. Minnesota. One example is the effort to adapt a U. sometimes uneasily. Some also offer training programs for the men who are violent. Domestic Abuse Intervention Program with its iconic “power/control wheel. 108. By 2002. 1999. and British activists. three other centers had opened in Hong Kong. However. At one end is replication. In 1995. Most centers provide counseling for women. financial. Of course. 2001). the program talked more about human rights. who employed models from the United States and the United Kingdom. such as occurs when the name and transnational referent are retained but the content of the ideas and the structure of the organization is dramatically changed. and tutorial groups for children. legal. Women’s centers first developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s in North America and Europe to encourage and educate women that they had the right not to be hit and to take their batterers to court. however. The transnational idea remains the same. police. a process that merges imported institutions and symbols with local ones. At the other end is hybridization. and prosecutors trivialized their problems (Merry 2003). Sometimes they are subverted.S. This framing enabled them to mobilize protest in a way that was heard by the public and by the Legislative Council but did not lead to long-term changes in their rights subjectivity. mission. Subsequently. which was named “Harmony House.” It was started by U. In Hong Kong. for example. The idea of training men who batter not to use violence against their spouses developed in several cities in the United States and the United Kingdom in the early 1980s. FORMS OF VERNACULARIZATION Vernacularization falls along a continuum depending on how extensively local cultural forms and practices are incorporated into imported institutions.S. When I interviewed them in 2002. March 2002).

S. Chan frequently visits North America for conferences and works with a leading family violence researcher in the United States. a graduate social work student at the University of Hong Kong. In 2002. Chan also advocates shifting the programs to be more similar to their U. He interviewed 19 men before and after the program. He told me that the problem is not traditional beliefs but the rigidity with which these men hold them. Given the British colonial past and current global connections of Hong Kong residents. violence control. emphasizing the importance of the concept of “yi” as the place in which a program should begin (Chan 2000:146). 148). However. along with Chinese conceptions of masculinity. and marital relationships. His dissertation (Chan 2000) describes his exploration of Chinese conceptions of honor. He emphasizes the positive side of traditional values. in other words. face. The “local cultural content” is also complicated. In the Chinese context.S. maintaining face in front of others is critical (Chan 2000:144). the undifferentiated self is the product of rigid cultural beliefs of yi and putting the pursuit of yi over the fulfillment of personal needs (Chan 2000:387). he says that participating in the program and listening to the men helped him to reflect on being a man . Because an individual receives help from others depending on how they perceive his power and status. Western ideas that the self must be disentangled from others to deal with conflict shape his approach. This model of Chinese masculinity explains why Chinese men have difficulty seeking help.S. prototypes: “Mandatory counseling for batterers. the more serious the undifferentiation of self. aims. Many of the programs are mandated by courts when a batterer has been convicted or is the subject of a restraining order (see Merry 1995). 6. Chan theorizes that Chinese batterers suffer from an impaired ability to differentiate the self. A man’s face is affected by the actions of his wife. family. The city is at the center of international trade networks and highly cosmopolitan. and methods. relationships. As a result. Perhaps making it more indigenous would increase its appeal. He hoped this approach would help social workers understand why men had such difficulty talking about their problems with violence and suggest a more culturally appropriate strategy for working with these men. As a doctoral student and now professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong. Despite references to Chinese tradition. Chan describes a program with local cultural content but imported structure. Theoretically and analytically. transplanting a local North American program into the Hong Kong context but adapting it to Chinese culture. Chinese masculinity is hardly a stable entity rooted in past religious beliefs. who is viewed as responsible for the loss of face (Chan 2000:148– 153). Chan advocates making the program mandatory. and achievement. Chan participated with two social workers in running two groups. rather than reacting in a judgmental way. Chan concludes: “The more rigid the definition of masculinity in yi. such as nonviolence. it is still a group-therapy program with two-hour weekly meetings where people talk about feelings.S. men sometimes become violent (Chan 2000:318). His goal was to develop an indigenous batterer treatment program grounded in the values of Chinese masculinity. He explores Confucian. yet during the same period. is also important because personal success is linked to “face” (Chan 2000:130. theories of psychology and domestic violence. who can diminish his face and therefore his power in social relationships. He is fluent in both English and Cantonese. Interpreting domestic violence in this way shifts responsibility for the violence to the woman. U. initiatives that treat problems such as drug use and battering with therapeutic discussions in the shadow of the law. the leaders see this as denial and minimization of the violence. The idea of a “yi husband and following wife” means that men are to be committed to and responsible for the marriage relationship and expect their wives to be obedient and submissive. Chan suggests accepting the Hong Kong men’s stories in their own terms. began research on programs for batterers. and Chinese conceptions of masculinity. text on family therapy. each of which had a two-hour session once a week for eight weeks. as well as the value of greater flexibility in beliefs. Chan told me that his program had held only five groups in seven years. They teach men how to avoid using power and control tactics against their partners. and thus the lower is the capacity of conflict resolution. To talk about their 45 violence is to disclose family secrets and personal weaknesses. Chan is a translator. and Buddhist traditions of family life. then explains how these ideas prevent men from talking to others about their problems and seeking help for their violence.” the public representation of one’s self. He was. anger control and abusive beliefs of batterers. They are reluctant to participate in this voluntary program. leading them to feel embarrassed and to lose face. and gender equality. and they employ feminist theories that see domestic violence as an expression of patriarchy. In North America. parallel to U. this work builds on Western social science.5 In his dissertation.4 Chan argues that it is very difficult for these men to talk about their violence. 90 percent of which were perpetrated by men. when men refuse to talk about their violence. citing a U. Conceptions of masculinity for the workingclass clients differ from those of business elites and again from that of poor mainland Chinese immigrants. I interviewed him in Hong Kong about his research and his dissertation.000 cases of spouse abuse were reported to the social welfare department. which encourages the men to talk (2000:166). aimed at managing the emotions. In 2002. including ideas of “face” and “rightness” (yi). Chan Ko Ling. should be encouraged by the government” (2000: 430). a total of about 30 participants.Merry • Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism management. Taoist. When marital relations do not follow this pattern. given Chinese conceptions of gender. the higher will be the probability of using violence against their female partners” (2000:421). The concept of “face. In 1997. Aggression is the strongest form of facesaving strategy.

The MS program straddles the government–NGO divide. Yet he retains the two-hour weekly group meeting format and mandatory court referrals. In 2000. Sharma in press). MS) endeavored to promote gender equality. where the translator is closer to the target. who develop and encourage women’s collectives. in each village. Sharma in press). ideology. At one meeting. The development program encouraged women’s empowerment and human rights while the women leaders of the courts blended these ideas with local norms. Nari adalats emerged in Gujarat in 1995 and in Uttar Pradesh in 1998 as informal courts to handle women’s legal problems (ICRW 1999–2002:34). that emerged in India in the mid-1990s to promote women’s human rights. or evangelical Christianity. and other family conflicts. Poonacha and Pandey 1999:161. the four nari adalats in the Vadodara district handled about 1. low-caste people. This includes a program coordinator and four resource persons at the district level and a program office with a director and resource personnel at the state level. though we acted out differently” (Chan 2000:v). Each sahyogini works with a cluster of ten villages and is supported by a more formal. Narayanan 2002. A 2001 study reported that in the six years since they were initiated. maintenance. The meetings took place in his kitchen next to the large room that served as the church meeting room. Hong Kong modernity.” is a national-level rural women’s “empowerment” program started by the Department of Education of the Government of India in 1989 with funding from the Dutch government (International Center for Research on Women [ICRW] 1999–2002. interviews with author. and because violence in the home was a major concern to many of the village women. and the power of God. Hybridity Vernacularization can take a more interactive form. illiterate women. claiming whichever identity seems most helpful at the moment (Sharma in press). divorce. The program depends on a cadre of women activists. January 2005). A national . Many come from NGO backgrounds and some have moved more recently to leadership positions in other NGOs promoting women’s human rights (Sharma in press. particularly among Hong Kong’s feminist men and women. 108. and references to human rights. suggesting limitations on their ability to translate human rights ideas into their local situations. the transnational indigenous rights movement. singing.200 cases of marital violence. there seems to be less local cultural content in the Hong Kong program. the pastor pointed out that Hawaiians have legitimate reasons to be angry about the way they have been treated. However. in his social context: “Surprisingly. the women’s collectives developed women’s courts to handle domestic violence. and is poorly paid. The parent program.7 Ironically. The MS staff is expected to bring skills and commitments to women’s issues (Narayanan 2002:299). development. His program combined prayer. whose translator is closer to the source than the target. The program introduced human rights ideas to its clientele of poor. governmentsupported leadership structure. they are not government employees and earn less than government workers (Sharma in press). Both are grounded in local culture as well as transnational practices such as Chinese tradition. It functions in the autonomous fashion of an NGO in some contexts and as a government program in others. called “Mahila Samakhya. and organizational forms generated in one locality merging with those of other localities to produce new. and feminist understandings of domestic violence. with symbols. during my research on domestic violence in Hawai‘i. than in the Hawaiian program. some were fired when they tried to unionize to demand their rights to higher wages. and discussions of sin and forgiveness with an analysis of the way Native Hawaiians have been oppressed by colonialism. His study shows how a transplanted program can be symbolically indigenized but remain fundamentally unchanged in organization. No.6 The philosophy of the MS program is that decision making should rest with local-level collectives. Thus. ideologies. harassment. a program imported from the West is likely to appeal to “local” conceptions of modernity. prayer. but he resists the court’s control and oversight as much as he can. He discussed male violence from the perspective of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement as well as Christian ideas that every person is worthy in the eyes of God and can change given enough time. divorce. One example is the nari adalats. or women’s courts. He says he has learned how to be nonabusive and nondominating in his relationship with his wife. The pastor must take attendance and inform the probation officer when he thinks a person is finished. he is a bridge between conceptions of masculinity and violence in North America and China. hybrid institutions. I found that we shared common beliefs of masculinity. 1 • March 2006 women’s development program encouraged the formation of poor village women’s collectives. Although Sahyoginis are paid by the government. He talked about the ideal of the warrior as a person violent in war but not at home. I twice visited a program developed in 1995 by a Native Hawaiian Christian pastor who offered anger management programs and took referrals from the courts. Both of these programs replicate North American theories of domestic violence as learned behavior and practices of therapeutic intervention in the shadow of the law while adopting alternative cultural models of masculinity and identity. The largely female work force lacks job security. and health benefits. pensions. many of whom are tribals or Dalits. and practices. but that it is wrong to take that anger out on loved ones.46 American Anthropologist • Vol. or sanghas. and social change by empowering poor women and providing them the knowledge and self-confidence to make changes (ICRW 1999–2002:32– 65. or sahyoginis. His approach blends the discursive fields of global Pentecostalism. Indeed. Mahila Samakhya (hereafter. reliance on government authority. Hawaiian identity.

The creation of nari adalats also reflects the Indian women’s movement long-standing focus on violence against women. The nari adalat consists of a core team of sahyoginis and selected sangha women. and they seem to be most successful in helping women arrange divorces and escape violent marriages. However. there have been differential levels of implementation around the country and substantial resistance from males of dominant castes (see Kapadia 2002). the director said that the program puts a strong emphasis on women’s rights and refers to international conventions and treaties. and in a 1992 amendment to the Indian Constitution. particularly in areas where the MS program has provided training.8 When I visited Jagori in 2001. Indian sources of rights concepts are more important. as they were trained to do by urban activists. However. use state symbols such as files. they have considerable impact on government workers (see Sharma in press). and social networks to gather evidence and negotiate agreements. After India’s independence. Mayaram 2002:396–397). The members of the nari adalat tour the district. 51). and governments have been positive (Narayanan 2002:295. The women meet in government compounds close to police and local government offices. the village panchayat. on the basis of MS Annual Reports). Some police and courts support these organizations because they think they are a good way to deal with “women’s issues. Like the parent MS program. particularly among poor families. They are less successful with wealthy families and with cases of rape and molestation. during the first years of the MS program. “democratic” panchayats were instituted by the state and made responsible for local development. At the same time. stamp paper. ICRW evaluations of these programs indicate that sangha and sahyogini women and those who experienced the nari adalats were more aware of their rights and better able to speak up (1999–2002:40–41. rape in police custody. These quotas have opened panchayat participation to women to some extent. most of whom have poor literacy skills and many of whom are dalits. the Government of India’s Committee on the Status of Women issued a report that advocated creating women-only panchayats at the village level as a transitional measure to ensure women’s participation. focusing on maintaining caste honor and promoting upward social mobility (see Galanter 1989. local leaders were trained by Jagori. women’s groups have worked to diminish dowry murders. A counterculture based on resisting violence in terms of the intrinsic rights of women is developing slowly. in subsequent years. They use humor and shaming to pressure litigants. Their authority is limited. Since the 1970s. As they promote the ideology of human rights. people of low-caste status (ICRW 1999–2002:36). call on the police for protection. largely in local terms: “Research documented the innovative ways in which activists use their local knowledge to reshape and reinterpret community idioms. The women leaders. and use their knowledge of local practices. Although the nari adalat was a new initiative. was directly elected. 54). it appropriated a familiar political structure. and child custody. They do not try to end marriages but emphasize the rights of the woman within marriage (ICRW 1999–2002:51). although still under the control of the state and local elites (Mayaram 2002:394). Krishnamurthy’s ethnography describes how nari adalats move creatively between community and state to gain recognition in the villages and access to formal institutions (2002:12. Many panchayats are caste based and handle conflicts within the caste community. recognizing that village panchayats tend to consist of men of the dominant castes. in 2005. they reflect the communities from which they come. Because they meet outside local government offices. thus using similar terminology (Meschievitz and Galanter 1982:50). adjust their meeting times to the rhythms of village life. Hayden 1987). the sanghs have been supportive. phrases and beliefs to create and persuade the community to adopt new perspectives” (ICRW 1999–2002:72). the women received legal training (Krishnamurthy 2002:42). the idea of women’s courts has a long history in India. and cite formal laws to support their decisions. customs. In the early 1990s. the Indian government created simple judicial tribunals called panchayat adalati to hear small cases. a feminist resource and training center in Delhi. The lowest tier. and successfully resolved a majority of these. they straddle the government–NGO divide. a nari adalat in Gujarat met next to the government court and police station. The clients were mostly low-caste and tribal women (Krishnamurthy 2002:3. Meschievitz and Galanter 1982:48–49). nevertheless. In 1974. both of which were supportive of the women’s efforts. widow immolation (sati) and battering in families (Butalia 2002). as the juridical institution of a caste (jati) or village. meeting at regular days and times in public places near government offices to dispense legal advice and settle marital disputes (Poonacha and Pandey 1999:161– 178). In the late 19th century. which require greater evidentiary effort (ICRW 1999–2002:99). They have no legal authority but rely on pressure and shaming. who tend to rely on collective leadership. For example. These put caste interests first. Thus. 33 percent of the seats in village panchayats were reserved for women. is a very old institution used for hearing complaints and negotiating solutions to conflicts (Mayaram 2002:394.” An ICRW study in 1999–2000 indicated that the operation of these courts and the closely related women’s councils 47 (mahila panch) made violence in the home a more open and public offense. claiming either identity as it seems helpful (Sharma in press). The nari adalat is therefore an adaptation . The panchayat. and seals. the idea of creating reservations for women in existing panchayats became a major issue of the Indian women’s movement.Merry • Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism property. When the need for a way of dealing with violence against women became clear. some women say they have learned to stand up for themselves. are not paid and their transportation is not covered. assert their status as part of the official MS program.

The consultants in Ruritania were viewed with suspicion by the African managers and held responsible for data problems by the Normland donor agency. intermediaries are always suspect because they are not fully in one world or the other. The positioning of the intermediaries. Translators committed to the target produce more hybrid transplants whereas those closer to the source create replicas. The Native Hawaiian pastor who tailored his program to evangelical Christianity and Hawaiian experiences of colonial dispossession had closer connections to the Hawaiian community than the feminist leaders of the mainstream batterer treatment programs on the same island. but that many retreat in the face of violence. 1 • March 2006 These examples illustrate the power and vulnerability of the translator. Hybrids merge local structures such as councils with imported ideas such as women’s human rights. they are vulnerable to accusations of disloyalty by either side. the state is strongly opposed to women’s leadership. and resistance from their own families and caste communities when they take leadership positions (Anadhi 2002. as promoted by the cosmopolitan feminist leaders of the MS program. but her vulnerability is her ability to persuade people with grievances to accept her definition of the problem and to extract financial and political support from states and donors. ideas that are already embedded in Indian law and supported by the Indian women’s movement. In some areas. the batterer treatment program in Hong Kong did not address these issues and the nari adalats were powerless to challenge caste. and too much hybridity. the key translators are the sahyoginis and the leading sangha members. and their knowledge of both sides of the interchange shapes the vernacularization process. They draw more extensively on local institutions. with its reference to international standards and its focus on individual injury and cultural oppression rather than structural violence. hybrids such as the nari adalats are thickly shaped by local institutions and structures. More educated and cosmopolitan Indian feminists working at the higher levels in the MS program translate feminism and human rights ideas to the sahyoginis they train and support. Moreover. whether many have adopted core human rights ideas such as equality. Shail Mayaram (2002) describes how the radical women activists in a similar program in neighboring Rajasthan were disempowered and the program was ultimately eliminated by the state. translators are restricted by the discursive fields within which they work. including its funding and publicity. and bodily integrity is questionable. All the translators used human rights discourse. Mayaram 2002). and gender hierarchies. autonomy. The power of the translator is her ability to set the terms of the exchange and to channel it. the sahyoginis are not paid adequately and were prevented from running for panchayat seats on the grounds that they were state employees. social marginality. Replications retain the basic structure of the imported institution such as therapy groups for batterers but overlay them with local symbols such as ideas of yi and face. the panchayat. She may confront violence and other forms of resistance. States often resist human rights laws and obligations and undermine initiatives that challenge patriarchy. their loyalties and commitments. 108. Under these conditions. idioms. The sahyoginis who translated MS objectives into the nari adalats were village women whereas the creator of the Chinese batterer treatment program was a cosmopolitan university professor.48 American Anthropologist • Vol. even though they are supported by village sanghas and the educated feminist MS leaders. The sahyoginis face criticism and even violence from male family members and male village elites for being too assertive. The stories of women who participate in panchayats suggest that a few acquire a strong rights subjectivity. and domestic violence. The translator must walk a fine line between too much replication. and practices. She is constrained by her resources and institutional location. the target is more powerful. but it has women members rather than men and is focused on issues concerning women rather than caste or village. CONCLUSION Unlike replications. No. Moreover. class. Within the nari adalat system. It introduces new ideas of women’s empowerment and human rights. In replications. whereas in hybrids. Although participation leads some poor women to stand up for themselves. The larger structure of economic and political power that surrounds human rights activism means that translation is largely a top-down process from the transnational of an existing structure. village inequalities remained untouched. states maintain an appearance of compliance while doing nothing or while doing something that is quite different than what international law specifies as human rights. in which case the reforms will lose the support of the global community. The hybrid seems to offer greater opportunity for subversion despite superficial compliance. the source is relatively dominant. and supports a woman’s rights to the return of some of her dowry at divorce and protection from cruel treatment. These translators work within state systems whose commitment to women’s rights is at best ambivalent. The Hong Kong government failed to make batterer treatment programs mandatory. social pressure. in which case the new ideas will lose their appeal to local communities. Like the village headman in British Central Africa.9 . knowledge. Despite the clear connections between poverty. which are thinly adapted to local circumstances. Although individual women were helped to deal with violence and divorce. The professor developing battering programs is supported by the transnational family violence movement but apparently has more difficulty winning the trust of the batterers. For example. and in many areas grassroots women leaders face resistance from local male elites.

However. 151–191. ed. The men were mainly working class. political involvement. I am grateful to the Cultural Anthropology Program and Law and Social Sciences Program. human rights ideas are not fully indigenized. They are embedded in a distinctive vision of the good society that envisions the state as the provider of social justice and the individual as responsible for making rights claims on the state. 425– 459. Organizations may adopt international human rights language even when they would rather take a different approach. This is the paradox of making human rights in the vernacular: To be accepted. Karin Kapadia. Anderson. they have to be tailored to the local context and resonant with the local cultural framework. Anandhi.S. 10. Mark Goodale. autonomy. emphasis on the woman as housewife in the 1950s. Studies of the dilemmas activists face in trying to win asylum status for their clients underscore this dilemma. Transnational imports are usually local conceptions from elsewhere launched into the transnational domain by the economic and political power of their creators. As translators vernacularize these transnational institutions and ideas. Human Rights Activism and the Struggle for Women’s Rights in Nigeria. Both McKinley (1997) and Ticktin (1999) show. they promote this modernist view. or place for them to appear both legitimate and appealing. and one to Europe. Lila 1993 Writing Women’s Worlds: Bedouin Stories. 3. This uneven circulation is driven by funders and governments. and equality—ideas embedded in the legal documents that constitute human rights law. although sympathetic to these grievances. the rule of law. U. and from a semester as a Visiting Fellow at the American Bar Foundation. I also appreciate research support from Wellesley College and the Mellon New Directions Fellowship. 7. His vita on the web lists at least six visits to the United States and Canada. This vision assumes that all people have equal rights. and community development initiatives. 4. they are some of the only tools available to struggle for rights of the disenfranchised. they need to present their work in a way that inspires these funders. BCS-9904441. Richard Rottenburg. they must emphasize individualism. Benedict 1983 Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. these conceptions of person. and Aradhana Anu Sharma provided helpful comments on a draft of this article. In The Violence of Development: The Politics of Identity. REFERENCES CITED Abdullah. yet. ed. or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Inhuman. Gender and Social Inequalities in India. It is certainly an important part of the expansion of a modernist view of the individual and society embedded in the global North. Kim Berry discusses the way Indian policies toward women’s development were shaped by the U. It promoted women’s equality along with health. 2002 Religious Revivalism. In Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa. savings. Ruritania is an unnamed African country and Normland an unnamed European one. bodily integrity. Pp. ethnicity. Pp. 9. 2002 Interlocking Patriarchies and Women in Governance: A Case Study of Panchayati Raj Institutions in Tamil Nadu. but a few were middle class. Native Hawaiians’ experiences are shaped by dispossession and displacement. choice. National Science Foundation. four to China. S. NY 10003-6688 NOTES Acknowledgments. for support for this research. New York University. and community remain the same. S ALLY E NGLE M ERRY Department of Anthropology. sahyoginis received only slightly above the government-stipulated minimum wage for skilled work (Sharma in press: see footnote xlii). As Inderpal Grewal (1998:507) points out. London: Verso Books. 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Despite arguments that human rights must be translated into local webs of meaning based on religion. which echoed ideas of some local elites in India that a family’s honor is connected to a woman’s confinement to the home. and nonformal education. at the same time. 49 University. translators must please their donors. New York. even though this might make them more readily accepted. 8. For example. The failure to fully indigenize these ideas impedes their spread. conceptualizations of female domesticity also dovetailed with Indian nationalist representations of women as mothers of the nation (Berry 2003:84–85). yet to do so would undermine their potential for change. although all do not have equal needs. Local programs developed in affluent nations such as the United States are more likely to circulate transnationally to poorer ones than vice versa. Whether or not they achieve an expanded human rights subjectivity is far more uncertain. 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